Wednesday, July 13, 2011

No Grocery Store Challenge - Tips for Farmers' Markets & Easy Storage of the Healthy Foods You Bring Home

The Guidelines:

1. All grocery (read: food) purchases must be made via Farmer’s market, roadside stand, small shop or  private purchase.

2. $30USD (before tax) is allotted – for the entire 28 days – to purchase various items that cannot be found at aforementioned venues.  All food purchased with this $30 should be organic/bio, if possible.
So here we are – midway through my first week of the “No Grocery Store Challenge” (which will be referred to as NGSC henceforth because typing that repeatedly drives me to drink).  I’ve been amazed and flattered by all the positive attention my undertaking has received.  I wish I could tell you that I’m toiling away trying to figure out how to feed my family without the use of the Tesco (think European Walmart), but I can’t.  So far it’s been really easy.  Starting it in the summer has given me access to amazing fruits and veggies and these healthy foods have served as inspiration.  Since I’m only 4 days in, I’m not going to attempt to convince you to try this for yourself (because, who knows, week 2 may not be so rosy).  Instead I’d like to share some of the tips I employ to make this process a lot easier on myself.  Hopefully, when you’re done reading, you’ll be willing to share some tips with me.  I’m already knee-deep in this, people, and I’ll take all the help I can get!

Vienna Naschmarkt
The first place to start is your Farmers' Market.  Most towns have them, usually at least once a week.  Here in Pápa, we are fortunate to have access 3x/weekly – year round.  It’s awesome.  Here are a few things I’ve learned that should be applicable worldwide. 

1.  Bring small bills – these folks don’t have a ton of cash on-hand, so make sure your paper money is in small denominations.  Markets are also a great way to offload some of the coin you’ve accrued.  When you can get a head of lettuce for $.60 the easiest way IS to pay with coin.  That way the vendor doesn’t have to make change.

2.  Bring your own bags.  Often vendors will have small plastic bags to contain your green beans and tomatoes, but it’s handy to have a large bag to put all of your goodies in.  It’s also helpful to invest in a rolling cart.

3.  Get your heavy items first.  My first instinct is to head to the pretty flowers and bright tomatoes and peppers.  If you’re getting them from different vendors (and why not spread around the love), go for the carrots, celery, potatoes – things that won’t squish – first so they can sit at the bottom of the bag.  This saves you from frustrating rearranging which almost always ends with a popped tomato or unintentionally pureed raspberries. 

4.  Don’t go to the market for the first time with the idea you will get all your fruits and veggies for the week.  If you do – great.  However, if you start with that intention, you will most likely leave feeling overwhelmed.  Many vendors peddle the same wares and not all are equal.  I suggest taking a field trip the first time.  Get one or two of whatever catches your eye.  Get to know the vendor, or at least take note of where you bought each item.  That way when you get home and realize the carrots you got from the adorable lady in the corner stall taste more like candy than health food, you can head back (to her first – no squished fruit!) and get some more.  I promise you will get more comfortable with each visit. 

In areas that don’t have Farmer’s Markets, or distance makes travelling impossible, you can look into Produce Delivery.  Many local farms offer regular delivery schedules for fresh fruits & vegetables.  Google your local area farms to see what they have to offer.  Or, in the States, check out this link.  If they don’t already have a program in place – ask!

At Home:

1.  Put your fruits and vegetable on the shelves in your refrigerator and store meats, cheeses and other items in the produce drawers.  When you open the fridge looking for a snack, you will be greeted by the bright colors of produce.  Make your refrigerator like a grocery store – put all the top-shelf (read: Healthy) items at eye level.

2. Pre-cut carrots, celery & peppers and store them in Gladware with some water (only a little for the peppers).  When your kids (or yourself) are looking for a snack, it’s ready to go.  And Your fridge will look like art. (Post Note 7/17: Several people have mentioned, in various internet threads, that glass is a MUCH better storage receptacle.  I agree! Obtaining glass storage containers is now at the top of my To Do list.  Thank you to everyone for pointing that out!)

3.  Freeze any produce you don’t think you’ll use right away.  I toss fresh peas, corn, strawberries & pre-chopped onions (Thanks Sara for the suggestion!) into freezer bags and put them on ice.  Raspberries are also a great fruit to freeze.  I spread them out in a 9x13 baking dish on a piece of parchment paper and slip them in the freezer.  After they’re frozen (it doesn’t take long), I move them to a freezer bag - but they never last long – they’re a fan-favorite around our house. 

4.  You can also freeze bread.  Currently, I purchase loaves of bread from the baker (It is SO MUCH CHEAPER, but I will go into that at a later date).  At home, I slice the loaf and put it in a freezer bag.  SIDE NOTE: It’s a proven fact (well, in my house, at least) that frozen bread makes better grilled cheese.  Don’t defrost, just butter and put directly into the pan.  It will come out crispy and delicious!

5.  Finally – my favorite thing to freeze – Purees.  When my daughter began eating solids I LOVED making her baby food.  Then I got hooked on the ideas presented in The Sneaky Chef.  Now, I buy additional produce to steam, puree, freeze and then add to almost all my meals.  My most commonly used purees are Cauliflower (add to Mac & Cheese or anything creamy), Carrots (great added to tomato-based dishes), and Sweet Potatoes (no pancake could be complete without some).

I should note that this isn’t a vegetarian endeavor for us.  So far, I’ve been able to get my meat from the local butcher.  You probably have one, too.  Most can order just about anything for you or suggest an alternative.

Ok, your turn!  What suggestions do you have?  How do you save time in the kitchen? What do you freeze or pre-prepare?  Do you want more info on anything I mentioned?  Let’s start a dialogue and help each other out!

Thanks again to TakePart & The Hippest Housewife for inspiring this journey. 
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